An Actual Photojournalist, here.

That moment you get an unexpected call from your host organization to run out and take pictures of a house fire for the homeowner who is 5 hours away working at the Green Mango,

but you’re still in your uniform (pajamas) because your husband is on a personal retreat and you have spent the entire day doing things you would never do with your joint time like reorganize your entire blog,

and you have to quick jump in the shower but the tuk-tuk is already here,

and when you throw on clothes and arrive at the scene, 300 people are already crowded around so you have to push your way through with your giant camera and iPhone, as if your white skin and complete inability to communicate hasn’t already alienated you,

and the quarter-mile alley leading back to the house is ankle deep in mud from the fire hoses,

and of the three houses affected, one is a pile of smoldering rubble, the second a single cement wall, and you never did find the third, but instead found dozens of teenage boys and old men throwing buckets of water on the smoking rubble and another dozen with hoses pulled from surrounding houses,

and you have to move because the house you’re standing next to that didn’t burn is radiating so much heat people start to throw buckets of water on that,

and you realize that in your haste to leave you didn’t bring any water or sunscreen or sunglasses, but the tuk-tuk guy notices and buys himself water, water for his son and a bottle for you,

and you snap all the pictures you can for the woman who is now responsible for the damage of the other houses,

and you wish you could tell everyone you’re not exploiting them but just helping the lady out,

and somewhere in the back of your mind you are recalling your own house fire back in college and how your roommate shredded her soot-condemned couch when she put it out on the curb so no one else could take it,

and you are realizing how odd that was as you watch neighbors lift mattresses up stairs and over alleys and shuffle between houses as though everyone belongs to everyone,

and you have to keep moving because your flip-flops are getting hot from the heat, and you thought regular Cambodia was hot, but that was before you felt  house fire Cambodia,

and when you get home Momsung and all the girls gather around sadly because this is their friend’s home and they want to see the pictures,

and you show them and eat dinner and come inside,

and you grab the phone to call your husband because you’re like, What just happened? but you can’t because he’s on that retreat and none of your blasted phones work,

and so you tell the internets, instead.

Yep. That happened.

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Other strange happenings at the house since Jeff’s been gone: The girls all surrounded me last night at the table to eat dinner with me, and Momsung has been arranging my lunch on a bamboo mat in her room for the 12p pirate soap opera. I think it’s the Cambodian version of Downton Abbey, but with pirates. They must all feel very sad on my behalf since Jeff is gone. Also, today Srey Leak came over to work on the assessment tool we’ve been creating and stayed after to hang out for a while. This has never happened. Momsung joined us, and I learned that Momsung is the owner of the property and has been here for 42 years! She was here during Pol Pot time and shares the land with her brother and sister. I also learned that the dude who sleeps here every night is a security guard Momsung pays $80 per month for.

 

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After Srey Leak left, Momsung took my hand and marched me through the village to by a Sprite from a special vendor. I had no idea we were living with a superstar. She knows everyone, and we bypassed several cold sprite coolers to buy from what I assume to be a friend, and the Sprite was warm. Go figure.

On the way home, I learned that she’d had a husband but he died. I learned it through the handy thumb symbol and the word for husband: propone.  It’s a total girl party around here with J gone, though it’s only been 30 hours and I miss him SO much, and I was totally responsible with thumb thing so I haven’t screwed up any more funerals.

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What Is Saving Your Life Right Now?

My friend posted a blog, after reading another blog, and that blogger had read a book, and the author of that book had been asked to speak on what was saving her life right then. Today* a bunch of people and synchronized blogs are answering this question: What is saving your life right now?

*When I say Today what I really mean is three weeks ago. But three weeks ago I was in such a despairing place, I could not come up with a list of things that were saving my life.  I could only come up with a list of things I wished were saving my life. Yes, I realize this kind of defeats the entire purpose of the exercise.

So, as all the life-savers rushed passed me on the internets, optimistic and enlightened, I sat on the sidelines chicken-scratching a bunch of things that were absolutely not saving my life right then (picture McKayla is NOT impressed) and feeling angry I couldn’t find optimism and gratitude- my two best things! You will lose all respect when you see my list. It’s bad.

Things I Wished Were Saving My Life Three Weeks Ago:

Food. Loads of goat cheese. On chicken. Wrapped in bacon. On bread. With oil. Small plates as far as the eye can see. If these things were happening right now, my life would be saved. Instead, due to the need for restraint (calories, waistline, cash, time) we are on a meal plan. Five meals per week, 20 ingredients or less, all organic, under 600 calories. Blast that meal plan! The inability to go out to eat for every meal and order anything I want is killing me. Salads in jars are killing me. For a person who communicates via food and weather patterns, who would rather ingest a tiny amount of taste-bud-bursting goodness than loads of mediocre anything; for a foodie, I wish amazing food was saving my life right now.

Hawaii. I wish Hawaii was saving my life right now.

Riches. Yes, I know how hard it is for a rich person to get to heaven, and that we’re not supposed to store up treasures and all that. I get it. But seriously, I could go for some cold hard cash. I would (you might have gathered) go out to eat every single meal and buy a personal trainer to work most of it off, and then a med spa to take care of the rest. I would go to two movies this weekend, and I’d have an outdoor living space with a plush couch, and tomorrow, I’d quit my job and vacation in Cuba for a month. I’d buy land in Belize, adopt some kids, and eat some more food without consequence. I would also go hiking in CO, visit all my friends in NOLA, and then go to Nepal. Yes. I wish those things were saving my life right now.

I wish single digit sizes were saving my life right now. My life would be saved if at the end of the day I could catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and think, Yep. Instead, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and gnash my teeth.

I wish God’s voice in human form and his face in human flesh sitting across from me were saving my life right now. I would ask him a direct question and get a direct answer. He would also likely buy my coffee, I think. He would tell me exactly how to pray. He would say, Yes, you have enough faith to do this one thing. Or, He would say, No, you’re not really believing believing. He might reveal that I’m praying in safe ways that leave wiggle room for God not to answer prayers, in case these things are Not His Will, instead of praying expectantly. He would let me know once and for all if expectant prayer is entitlement or faith.

I wish some kind of everything-fits-perfectly feeling was saving my life right now. Instead- well, just read this. She says it perfectly. J and I have a case of the wanderlust. If some kind of Holy Passion presented and everything suddenly fit, my life would be saved.

I wish God’s breath into a mess of cells and tissue was saving my life right now. It’s not all I want in life. It’s not even something I wanted until a year ago. It’s not the only thing I think about. But if it happened, my life would be a little bit saved.

___

Three weeks later, thanks to things that are actually saving my life, I am able to identify some things that are saving my life. Funny how that works.

What Is Saving Your Life Right Now?

My aunt is saving my life right now. On the prayer thing, she said: When you prayed that prayer the very first time– the unanswered one, the one in which I don’t know if I have enough faith- God heard it. It has already been answered. You just don’t know how or when or in what form this thing will appear. But God heard it, it’s been answered, and you are free to move forward.

Limes and La Croix are saving my life by being all refreshing and tart, and caffeine free, sugar free and sweetener free. This combo tricks my taste buds into thinking I’m having some kind of dirty carbonated beverage. Really, it’s just soda water with some limes.

My little community of women are saving my life right now. Kim’s words: These women are teeming with so much life. Giving me so much life. Saving me on days when I couldn’t find hope with a floodlight. Saving me by letting me point out hope when it’s their turn to misplace it. Saving me with plans for a weekend away, just our despair, and our hope, and margaritas as big as our heads.

A new friend who came over for a long walk is saving my life right now.

A friendly neighbor who stops by more often than not is saving my life right now.

My writing group is saving my life right now.

My job is saving my life right now. Three or four weeks ago, after the worst worst MD visit, I really wanted to cancel all my appointments the following day to give myself time and space to recoup, emotionally. Being a therapist is for the birds on days when you need a therapist. But it was too late, and I am reliable. So I went to work and resolved to be 100% present. For 8 whole hours, I did not think about myself even one time. I came home lighter, and my life was a little bit saved that day.

My husband is saving my life right now. His insight and care. His partnership. The way he ushers me up to the roof to watch shooting stars on a blanket. The way he could never write an ungrateful I wish list, because he’s got that much perspective. His humor and kindness save my life every single hour.

Our blooming flowers that were dead a month ago are saving my life right now. The way these flowers, planted on almost the exact weekend we began our journey through unparenthood, have become reflective of my insides- bright and cheery, withered, dead, sprouting, full-bloom, wilted, thirsty, drowning, blooming… endless, the stages, and totally dependent on things they’re not in charge of.

Church is saving my life right now. Each time I show up, the question bouncing back and forth between J and I all week is answered. It’s not Jesus in the flesh, but I’m learning more about the Spirit. The Spirit is saving my life right now.

Our pet electronic vacuum is saving my life right now. Purchased before the Hartman recession hit, in a fit of crumb-despising-fed-upness, to which most people respond with a broom and dustpan, we feed this pet/child/swiffer thingy scraps from our dinner table and speak to it as though it has a heart and soul. Don’t tell anyone.

For J, on his Day

To the type of husband who sneaks a cup of coffee onto the bathroom counter while you’re in the shower-

To the type of ‘band who pulls the stove out from the kitchen wall looking for the GFCI outlet, and lets you off the hook when you see a spider, no matter how dirty and dusty it is back there. You flip and dry heave, he remains calm and cleans the entire thing until sparkles-

To the dude who keeps all the plants alive in our house-

The the husband who brings home some nail clippers randomly one day from the store because he remembers yours got confiscated in the Cancun airport-

To the husband who can capture the perfect picture of your baby niece’s sparkly shoe on a skateboard

To the guy who lets you pick the Garden Salsa Sun chips even though he really wants the Harvest Cheddar-

To the husband who wakes up one day and with a tiny shovel rips out the front bushes or finds our screens in the garage-

To the guy who secretly fills up the humidifier when it’s my turn and I’m already in bed-

To the husband who leaves these in my car-

And this on my table-

For no reason at all.

To the husband who brings home an US weekly before a road trip because he thinks its the kind of magazine I like-

To the guy who walks into Charming Charlies, picks a colorful pair of sandals, and orders them in my size for an unexpected birthday surprise-

To the man who took me to the top of a 14-thousand foot mountain on our honeymoon-

To the guy who values everything I write and every pic I take-

To the husband who always offers me the last slice of pizza, the last bite of cookie, the last kernel of popcorn-

To my Friday morning egg-maker and my Sunday morning road-tripper-

You will never believe how glad I am that you were born. We need a new word for glad. Happy Birthday!

Grown-up words

The appropriateness of sharing with the entire Internet news about things like babies, or lack thereof, is unclear. For a minute (well, for 14 months) we have cocooned ourselves in a comforting and necessary privacy to navigate this strange experience together- the experience of not being pregnant. But in my own heart, which knows no interpersonal boundaries, which shares anything and everything with most everyone, a strange combination of fear/denial/uncertainty kept taking my words away. Taking my words away. This never happens! There are 190 posts over a span of 4 years on this blog. Part of the problem is that things like infertility aren’t so funny. I have a blackbelt in crafting hilarity out of awful and/or inappropriate things. Except this one time.

Then an old friend went and posted her journey in a space where I (on the comfort of my own porch swing) sat straight up and yelled inside my head, ME TOO!  Not just the part about grief and sadness, but the part about overwhelming blessings and God’s presence in the middle of an awful experience. In my head I thought: GOD HAS SUSTAINED US! I HAVE TO TELL HER!

Which brings me to my own space: God has sustained us. I have to tell you.

After several rounds of blood draws, a laparoscopy, surgery to remove endo, an HSG (pray this procedure never happens to you), and several hours/days in a Reproductive Endocrinologist office, here is the punchline: I do not make mature eggs (yes, I will be using grown-up words like “ovary” and “egg”). I imagine my ovaries like that Cheeze-It commercial: A guy with a clipboard is evaluating the maturity of my eggs, who are just hanging around throwing paper airplanes and telling knock-knock jokes.

(Get it together, eggs!)

Throughout this process, we have experienced bottom of the barrel questions and thoughts that can be summed up nicely by my pal Anne Lamott: I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish (Bird by Bird). Here is an example: Why do some people have to pay $20k for a baby, and other people get to have one for free?

We have crumpled in shame immediately after those thoughts, because we have more blessings than we could ever list. If our lives remained exactly as they are today for the rest of our time on earth, we would be happy and thankful.

In those exact same moments, we have lived within the peacefulness and certainty of the answers to these questions: Are we enough for each other? Is God enough for each of us? Yes. And Yes. If He asks this of us, do we trust God to do something meaningful with our lives that doesn’t include a house in Carmel with a couple of kids? Would we be able to live with joy and purpose? Yes. And Yes.

Do you believe both the questions and the certainty of the answers can happen simultaneously? I do. I think that’s what makes it faith.

In the same vein, we have sincerely and wholeheartedly celebrated new birth and pregnancies of at least 4 friends within this period of time. Do you believe God can split a heart in half in such a way it’s able to feel such sorrow in its own loss, and such excitement in someone else’s joy? He can. He can do anything.

We have been 90% calm and confident in God’s goodness in our lives (J) and 10% loony and fit-throwy (Me). We have grief-eaten popcorn in bed and grief-watched International House Hunters and/or The Office for several hours on at least one occasion. J might deny this.

I have taken daily hour-long walks with Sara Groves on the iPod, creating a time and space for God to walk with me. Ask how many years its been since I carved out a time and space to be with God. Not to pray or ask or serve or showcase: but to exist with him in an unfilled space. A deep, peaceful breath began to flow through me during those walks. Don’t mistake this for resolved feelings, or unshed tears- the mention of this circumstance will bring up an emotional reaction in 10 seconds flat. But within 2 days, smiles returned, unexplained joy and gratitude filled us up, and life moved forward.

I have practiced yoga, and during my hour-long class, found myself commenting to God how amazing the body is, instead of how defective it is. How spectacular the circulatory system is, and the digestive system, and the liver. The miracle, I have realized—the exception, not the rule—is that we are alive. That our skin comes together and holds everything in. That our blood flows and our hearts beat. That we breathe in and out and are given a certain number of days to complete a certain task in the world, and that we think somehow our lives belong to us. We are created, and we exist so long as our creator continues to breathe life into our pile of bones and skin and muscle. Each time we breathe in and out, we are experiencing a tremendous, fantastic, unbelievable miracle. I believe that’s called worship. Worship in my yoga practice.

We have eaten the required amounts of fruits and vegetables (almost) every single day for 4 months. We have replaced coffee with tea. We have limited red meat, sugar and dairy. In February, after an entire Fall season of immune issues and blood draws, my doctor asked, “Do you eat fruits and vegetables?” I said, “No. As a matter of fact, I eat cookies and bread and lots of cheese.” She prescribed me several vitamins, a probiotic, and a regimen of fruits and vegetables. Would you believe I fed my body cookies and bread and cheese for 31 years, and then got mad at it for not functioning with precision? If body were not connected to brain, it would have punched me in the face. Would you believe I asked God why my body isn’t working properly while eating a chocolate torte for breakfast?  For 4 months, I have made salad jars on Sunday nights to eat throughout the week for lunch. Each morning I make a fruit smoothie with greens in it. Rest assured that even if I choose to eat Snickers for the entire rest of the day past 1pm, I will have already consumed my minimal daily required amounts of vitamins and minerals, and can now answer the previous question with a little bit of self-respect: Yes, I eat fruits and vegetables. I had never before taken the time or energy to feed myself adequately.

We have regained control of our budget. This is important because we never really knew we lost control until we needed something. Poor planning, a tiny bit of greed and self-indulgence, and some unavoidable life events (don’t wait 5 years to go to the dentist) forced us to re-evaluate our habits and values.

Those are the things we have done.  Here are the things God has done.

First off, He didn’t drink gin straight out of the cat dish. He put his arm around me in my car when I was thinking those awful thoughts about how life couldn’t get any worse, and sent this song to me on the radio, demonstrating that God even provides words for the prayer when you can’t think of any (skip the ad):

He did hold on to me. He didn’t let me lose my way. And He may have broken my iPhone, too, I’m not sure. My iPhone shattered that day, and it pushed me to the cusp of sanity.

I called J on my shattered screen, and before I could say anything negative, the sound of his voice offered truth and perspective in these things:

For unknown reasons except grace and goodness, God has given me Jeff: a wholly undeserved shower of God’s own love, faithfulness, creativity, humor and compassion on a daily basis. A person somewhere is longing for this. For unknown and undeserved reasons, we are cared for by others.  A person somewhere cannot identify one single support person in his or her life. For unknown and undeserved reasons, we live in a privileged place. A person right this very second is standing in a refugee camp somewhere waiting to live to any place. For no reason but the grace of God, we have too much food. Somebody very close to me is hungry right now. We have joy in our lives, not fear. A person right now is living in fear of bombs, or dictators, or ownership. And for unknown reasons but our privileged lot in life, we have one viable medical option, and while the money appears to be a significant setback, we are able to budget. Someone right now doesn’t have a single dime to his or her name, nor do they live in a place that offers a “Reproductive Endocrinologist”. For someone right now, even three months of injections with a 25% success rate isn’t an option. Lord, have mercy. Our cups runneth over.

God brought to the surface things in our lives that needed healing: our health, our diet, our finances, our faith, although all seemed fine before this crisis. And God has provided us with the warmest community of support and compassion in women/couples who “understand this most intimate pain” (Kim’s words) before we even had to ask for it.

The awareness of God in our lives, our communication with and total reliance on Him, our awareness of our lifestyle in regards to the foods we’re eating and the money we spend on things, and our thankfulness for other gifts- like eachother- have increased dramatically.

I heard a quote at the Global Leadership Conference last year about a missionary guy who was fleeing for his life due to the practice of his faith. When someone from the US told him we would be praying for him, the missionary said to the US guy: “WE will be praying for YOU! I hear there are people in America who can go an entire day without praying because they have found a way to be sufficient without God.”

I do not lie when I say this: I prayed that day God would make me more reliant on Him. I felt like a pansy over here, forgetting about God because I was accidentally meeting my own needs. And then we saw the Endocrinologist who said, Welp. You don’t make mature eggs, sorry.

I can’t fix my own eggs, obviously. And I don’t think God ordained my eggs to be immature. In fact, I belive God sits next to me on the porch swing with more empathy than I could fathom, heartbroken over the disaster his earth and population and creation have become. There are lots of things that can be traced back to the exact moment they went awry- BPA, antibiotics and hormones in chickens, melanoma. And there are lots of things that just don’t make any sense.

I don’t understand the theology of infertility, not even a little. But I don’t think God creates disorder. He creates perfect things, and the depravity of human nature disrupts them. This is not the way He designed it. And I just read in Crazy Love (Francis Chan) that God has as much right to ask us- Why are your bodies defective? Why are my people starving? Why is there cancer? As we have to ask him- Why is my body defective? Why are people starving? Why is there cancer? Humans create disorder, and God doesn’t always save us from it. I don’t know why.  But what God promises is that He will use the disorder to draw us closer, and to make something beautiful out of what darkness tried to steal.

In a tiny whisper, I tell you: I am content in this circumstance.

(Thanks K, for helping me find some words.)